Tuesday, December 06, 2005

No longtings

Loe Horror Show
Originally uploaded by soulsnatcha.
A while ago I headed into south London to speak with dubstep pioneer Loefah. This is what got said...

Blackdown: Tell me how DMZ came about?

Loefah: We’ve known each other for years. The common link between us all for years has been music. We used to DJ and MC together. It was literally me, Mala, Coki, Pokes, Millitary Gee and our mate Mandeep. So it’s been years man, playing house parties, making pure mixtapes and dreaming about playing on pirate radio or at Metalheadz.

B: I know Mala Digital Mystikz was involved with Twice as Nice, were you around for the 2step days?

L: That was Mala’s thing. I went to the club a few times but I really detested garage, especially the kind of thing that got played at Twice as Nice. Fucking Dane Bowers DJing there and shit… you know what I mean? But I did go there, I was in his music video. It was all good, we were friends through it but nar, musically I had nothing to do with it.

B: So when did you feel differently about garage?

L: One of the reasons I hated ‘garage’ is because to me, it wasn’t garage. It wasn’t London garage. Jungle raves, back in the day. Do you remember the rave Stush? That used to be held at Chelsea Banqueting Suite, well it turned into a garage rave but it began as a jungle rave. I used to go to that and Dream FM bashes. It was the older lot that weren’t up for the pills. This was a more sophisticated, wise London lot than the Twice as Nice crowd, it was who have been raving, people who ‘still like raving but aren’t into going into all that madness.’ Second room was always a badboy thing. Garage was such a London sound. Garage was real, gritty London bassline shit. Old Freek FM, before that Girls FM – it was ‘aving it man. “House and garage.” Some proper Cockney bird trying to speak posh on the [pirate radio] advert.

L: So we were writing beats, always had been, and DJing had kinda died down. I was with this bird and I wasn’t mixing. I got with her and she actually broke my mixer. Not intentionally but she never replaced it so I stopped mixing. Yeah I did say this on the “Grime 2” album notes – rags! – I let her get in the way. I was in it, that’s where I was at that time of my life. I’d given up on music, I thought ‘that was then’ – because I wanted to be Goldie, man, before this. Basically.

L: But yeah we were writing beats, I was working with Mala at this debt collecting company. Mala was starting to really take the music production seriously. He went to college to learn about it in the evenings. He’s proper dedicated, Mala. He used to come back and chat to me, he’d have a new beat he’d done on Reason, cos that was what we were using then. To tell the truth he was writing a lot of house then, but dark house.

L: Somehow Hatcha had got one of Mala’s tracks, I think Hatcha knew Mala from the garage days. But I’d never heard of him before. So Mala must have said ‘yeah this DJ might be playing my thing’ so I went with him, and it was at Forward>> and I was like ‘rah.’ It was different, it kinda had Metalheadz vibes to it. Some of the tracks were bad. It wasn’t quite what I was on, but it was the nearest thing. As the same time I’d just lost interest in drum & bass, I wasn’t looking to make music on that level. So I heard Hatcha, all the bongos, I heard Youngsta play a lot of 8bar/early grime. I remember him playing one of Wiley’s beatless ‘Devil Mixes’ and that really turned my head. So I went home and made some beats but there wasn’t a name for it, I found out a couple of months after it was called dubstep after I’d written some. We were just calling it ‘138 shit,’ after the tempo. ‘What you writing?’ ‘Some 138 shit.’

L: I started writing beats but just sitting on them. I finished ‘Indian’ in January and gave it to Hatcha in August. Mala used to cuss me hard you know? ‘What are you doing with them? You’ve made them to sit on your hard drive? Go down to Big Apple and pass them to Hatcha.’ And I was like ‘well I don’t know Hatcha, what if he sits there and goes ‘fuck off?’ And Mala said: ‘and what if he does?’ So I went down there and played it to him and I thought they were taking the piss when they liked it. Skream was in there and Chef was in there. I was like ‘rah’ and got a bit shaky over it, and went upstairs to listen to some records and thought ‘fucking hell, what was that all about?’ Next thing I went down to Forward>> and he played ‘Indian’ and it was like ‘rah.’ That was how we got there really.

B: How does it work, with you, Coki and Mala all part of DMZ and all producing?

L: There isn’t any rules. We all write beats. To be honest I usually hear their beats before they’ve been cut - but not always. Now I don’t even ask Mala for beats because I play back to back with him so much. I could spend pure money cutting these wicked Mala beats but he’s only going to play them before me.

B: I get a sense of what your style and Mala’s styles are, and in some ways it’s almost like they’re mirror images of each other. Some of your ultra dark ‘down’ halfstep contrasts strongly with Mala’s energetic ‘up’ vibe. Any idea how that happened?

L: It’s organic. He makes beats that gets him going in the club, so do I. We all come from the same musical background, so the link between our tunes might be tenuous but you can see it. It’s a Norwood thing.

B: The DMZ sets have never got boring because of the different styles you can both draw for…

L: We’ve never discussed them because there’s nothing to discuss. We don’t plan nothing, except the intro. There’s no communication needed. I listen to what he plays then I think ‘bwoy, where am I taking it?’ I swear it’s because of our background at Metalheadz, when we used to go raving in ’96-97. I know Mala loved Randal. You say ‘of course’ but that wasn’t my preference. Mine was Digital or Doc Scott. I remember the baddest Metalheadz set I ever heard was by Digital. It was just halfstep, dubby … and I didn’t know it was ‘dubby’ at the time because I didn’t know what dub was. All I knew was junglehardcoredrum&bass.

B: it’s very strange to hear you talking about Metalheadz because if you trace back the roots of dubstep a lot of it came from El-B going to Metalheadz. He was obsessed, he hung around with them boys but they never let him ‘in’ as a producer. So he was into garage but it wasn’t dark enough like Metalheadz, so he started taking Groove Chronicles and Ghost darker… and that’s the birth of dubstep. It’s amazing to hear now how you were inspired by that club because we’re getting on for ten years since the Blue Note days.

L: It was phenomenal what they started there. I started going out raving when I was 14. I used to go to this under 18s rave in Tollworth in Epsom called Teen Rage, but it was ruff. I saw Kenny Ken, Mickey Finn and Slipmatt, all the top DJs from that year plus the resident DJs Squirrel and Nutty One. The first bigman’s rave I went to was Dream All Night 5 at Labyrinth. I was 14. I was 6 foot when I was 14. I never had a growth spurt, I stopped growing at 13.

B: Is it a fluke that both Metalheadz and Digital Mystikz abbreviate to the same three letters? MDZ … DMZ?

L: Yes … I didn’t even know that… fucking hell. That is uncanny, fucking nuts. I’m gonna bell Mala after this… have you told him yet?

B: What this about DeMilitarized Zone?

L: DMZ doesn’t mean DeMilitarized Zone though. But it does. Do you know about graffiti? Crews? Ever heard of FDC. Ever heard of Sur? A big writer who’s crew was FDC. FDC meant For Da Cause, For Da City and Fuck Da Cunts.
This is the same principle as DMZ because it can mean Digital Mystikz but I’m not Digital Mystikz, I’m not part of that [strictly speaking Digital Mystikz is Mala and Coki on production, whereas DMZ is the night and label, which Loefah is part of], but DMZ can mean DeMilitarized Zone and also anything else. What ever you put in there, it doesn’t matter.

B: What do you feel about jungle people like Klute, Chris Inperspective, Fracture and Amit turning up at DMZ?

L: Well I don’t know their backgrounds but I haven’t experienced turning up to a rave like DMZ with the bass just ‘whooooooooom’ and it’s just one room, since jungle. Other clubs have a nice pretty bar and a chill out zone. DMZ though, is ‘if you don’t like this, fuck off.’ It’s a dark room with true, warm sub bass. It’s not this drum & bass compressed madness, though there is some bass in drum & bass, but we’re talking the stuff that turned me off it, the mid-rangy, nasty noises. But DMZ has a vibe, it just feels young.

L: But of all those producers, Klute is the one I know personally. It freaks me out he comes down because he’s someone I know is a badboy, he someone who’s records I used to buy. He’s asked me to use some of my music for Commercial Suicide, not to put out on a 12” but for a mix CD. He’s cool, he just knows about jungle. We’ve chatted about films, he told me about this [the Star Wars prequel] THX 1138 film, telling me how dark it is and sample-heavy.

B: DJ Shadow ripped it to pieces…

L: I dunno you can always find something, a door opening, anything.

B: Since a lot of people, particularly Horsepower, have done film dialog sampling so exceptionally well, doesn’t that mean it should perhaps be avoided?

L: I dunno, I haven’t done it for a while. I still do use little words, just not long sections. I think it’s important, it references things and sends your mind off on different thought paths. I think this whole rave thing in Britain, which what we’re doing is a mutation of, one fundamental thing throughout virtually all of the styles is that on one level it’s dance music but on the other it’s mind music.

B: Was the dialog in ‘Goat Stare’ from the documentary where the US military tried to kill goats by focusing their minds on them?

L: Sort of, it was. But I didn’t watch it - Youngsta did. And he got scared. ‘What if someone stares at me, and I don’t know about it, and they stop my heart?’ I said there wasn’t a lot he could do about it but it did remind me of a film called ‘Scanners.’ So I decided to sample it, make a tune and call it ‘Goat Stare.’

B: Some of your early tracks, especially ‘Jungle Infiltrator’ were very percussive. Then after that you created a whole batch of tunes – ‘Woman,’ ‘Midnight,’ ‘Goat Stare’ – that defined whole flavour of ultra minimal Loefah halfstep. How did that switch come about?

L: Logic. Getting Logic and getting fed up with bongos. I went into Apple one day and played Hatcha a tune and he went ‘there it is, the Loefah hi hat line.’ And I was like ‘oh’. So I decided from then on to keep things interesting. Then, it was Ministry of Sound, Youngsta played there with a stupid limiter and on my tunes all you could hear was the hi hats. That was it. It was fucking horrible. I realised I needed to sort my production out. I listen back to my Apple and Rephlex tunes and I cringe. I’m glad I did them but after that I thought about learning how this [music production] shit really works.

L: I was listening to beats and thinking I want the loudest mixdown in the world. I want a loud, clean mixdown with the emphasis on the clean. I got a Mac, Logic and went in. I had Kode 9 on the phone for the whole of the first night. My first production was ‘Horror Show.’ I found the ES2 and the siren synth, and the ES1 and found a beautiful bass. Listening to that bass I was like ‘fuck it’ I’m going to do it halfstep. I’m gonna strip it back, I was listening to a lot of Photek at the time. It’s minimal. It’s the placement. Think about the ‘Bleeps’ tune. The beats are still intricate but there’s still space in between them.

B: I always figured that the halfstep idea came through grime, particularly Wonder’s ‘What.’

L: Yeah, blatantly, grime was an influence. I knew of ‘What’ but I couldn’t have named it at the time. So it must have been indirectly. Also, if I’m honest, Missy Elliot’s beats were a factor. Because the way I see it, space is just as much of an instrument as a kick or a snare. You need peaks and troughs.

L: Production: I haven’t clocked it though, I’m still working on it. I’m really looking at getting into using breaks, you know? Not making ‘breaks’, not what they call ‘breaks’ but making my halfstep stuff and adding some little fills, finding a nice take on it. I love a good beat, it fucking kills me.

B: You’ve recently been in the studio with Oris Jay, working on a tune and chopping up breaks. That’s cool to hear because you could argue that perhaps halfstep has gone as far as it can go. You’ve taken beats out to get to halfstep, what else can you take out? You either get to a ‘Devil Mix’ or ‘Sign of the Dub’, which has been done, or you add on. This is interesting because a lot of people have currently adopted the halfstep ideas you came with…

L: That’s the madness man, because people talk about all this ‘no energy’ thing in the scene, and I do feel kind of responsible, but I wasn’t making halfstep because I didn’t like up tempo. I made it because I like it when you have an ‘up’ vibe, then you drop a halfstep and it drops … and you’ve got variety in your sets. This is why I love the Mala thing, what we do in our sets.

B: Increasingly dubstep’s audience isn’t exclusively from London, so perhaps from a distance the city’s parts can’t be resolved, it seems like a homogenous whole. But I know you’re someone who’s quite loyal to south London and subscribes to this tribal, endz view. Is London homogenous or are there exclusive human characteristics in certain districts?

L: I’m proud to live in south London and I do love it. I put ‘SE25’ as part of my remix names because that’s part of me. I do identify that there’s different areas of London, and that it changes from area-to-area. There’s different rules, everywhere. I feel at home in south London - not south-west or south-east - but south of Brixton and north of Croydon. Anywhere in there – the London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark or Croydon – and I’m cool. They’re three places I’ve lived in London. Croydon is where I grew up and where I know the best. A lot of Croydon I’m not into but Norwood’s great.

L: The way I see London is that Londoners don’t know where London is. Because when you get into London you don’t live ‘in London’ anymore you live in Norwood, you live in Peckham or you live in Bow. If you’re asked “where are you going?” a lot of people would say “I’m going up London.” What London is basically is a lot of villages. Urbanised, built up, overlapping villages. I suppose because you don’t have physical boundaries, you kinda create your own boundaries. I think it’s more a jovial thing…

B: But you seem to take it very seriously…

L: I wouldn’t want to live in north or east London because they’re a different place. They’re not me, they’re not home. It’s just certain things you get used to. I like south London because it’s a lot more open, even in a lot of the most built up areas there’s still a lot of breathing space. Think about Hackney, or Stoke Newington… they’re all just “on top.” It’s more like countryside in south London, it’s more open.

B: It’s telling about the perceived differences between bits of south London. You mention Peckham and Norwood. To north Londoners they can’t be resolved, they’re all south. But north Londoners would never put consider Hackney and Stoke Newington as similar in a social context. I guess it’s all about familiarity.

L: Blatantly. Because I know about 5% of London.

B: Yeah but that’s what makes it so enthralling. I came off the buss turned down a darkly lit road towards your house tonight and suddenly I was in some part of London I’d never ever been to before. I love that.

L: I love that too. But yeah I love south London because of the familiarity and because of the culture, because of what I perceive in south that isn’t anywhere else. It probably is, but it’s just manifested itself in a different way.

B: Let me ask this then. I really like the link between dubstep and London…

L: … I think it’s essential…

B: … and London is a multicultural place. My feeling is if you get people that grow up in multicultural places, they’ll understand each other better. That’s one of the fundamental reasons why I like urban music. Now we’re at a point where dubstep looks like for the first time the boundaries of some of its producers and fan base have expanding beyond London and the UK and I’m really curious about what’s going to happen next.

L: No one knows what’s going to happen next. As long as I’m writing beats I’m happy with, I’m cool to do that. Other people are free to do what they want, even if sometimes you despise what they’re doing, it’s a free country and you can’t say nothing.

B: I just hope the spirit of that multiculturalism and a lot of the soundsystem and Jamaican culture that you guys have brought through stays with the sound.

L: Do you think it’s understanding of Jamaican culture or do you think it’s an understanding of London culture? Because I would argue for the latter.

B: OK how about ‘soundsystem’ culture?

L: I dunno, I wouldn’t say I know a huge amount about soundsystem culture and what I do I know because of jungle. And I’ve learnt about jungle because of London. I’ve learnt a lot about dub since I’ve been doing dubstep. I knew a bit before but I think we’re writing beats that we would naturally write because of the sounds that have surrounded us as we’ve grown up. You can reference them but I don’t think it’s a Jamaican thing, not for me. Because I’m not Jamaican and I haven’t got a reference to Jamaica. We didn’t chose DMZ to be held in Brixton because of the black population of Brixton, we chose that place [3rd Base part of Mass] because it has been responsible for the badest dances. Soul 2 Soul used to do a dance across the road. St Mathew’s church [aka Mass] is old school from London dub. Seriously though, a lot of dub was written in London.

L: So with good soundsystems – that’s standard. We don’t understand it when people don’t deal with it. It’s what we’ve always been into for years. Every boy in Norwood I swear had a 12” sub in his house and has been blasting out to his neighbours. It’s what you do. Speakers and good sound is essential. Even down to people who get good sets for their cars. You gotta hear your music properly. And we’ve always listened to sub heavy music.

B: You’ve got 12”s coming out on Tectonic, DMZ, Hotflush Remix and maybe Tempa. You pleased?

L: I am but I’d prefer to have good mixdowns. I don’t know… I’m striving for something, I just want this mixdown. This sound. I’m not quite there yet but each track is a step towards it. But then you lose momentum because production ends up being about ‘this noise’ and you spend all day doing it and you won’t have written a beat.

B: It’s something producers get very concerned with, that the sound of their sound is more important than the emotion of their sound or the arrangement of their sound.

L: It’s about striking that balance.

B: What’s it like working with Skream?

L: Wicked he’s the easiest person to work with in the world. His persona in the studio is 100% focused. We’ve got this [new] thing… we’ve just got to arrange it.

B: How did you end up collaborating with Oris Jay?

L: I said ‘do you want to go on a beat?’ he said yes and sent me ‘Mighty Crown.’ It was wicked though. Oris is a badman. He showed me some stuff in Logic, that was sick. He’s old school. He knows, he knows about production I don’t know about. That’s why I love working with him.

B: Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?

L: Yeah, Kode 9. I think he’s just got it. What he does is bad. The vocal, Hyperdub stuff. I love it. His use of space… “Subkontinent,” “Ping” … all the Rephlex tunes. The stuff they chose to do is fucking wicked. It’s complete subversion and it works. I want to write a good bassline for Space Ape.

L: I also want to work with Jay from Vex’d. I’m planning to ring him. He knows his shit. I want to work with The Bug as well.

B: At one point you were trying to both finish a fine art degree and work on an album. What kind of art were you interested in?

L: I was really into documentary photography but that wasn’t what the course was about. It was more of the Goldsmiths school of thought – installation driven, conceptual art. Ideas. It was a lot of theory and written work. It’s weird… it was very interesting. It wasn’t like being as Slade where you’d be painting or life drawing every day. This course was more about what you were going to do than how you did it. It was theoretical than technical. You know Damian Hurst? You know the painting he did that’s just a white background and some dots on it? The dot’s are equidistant from each other, all different colours. He didn’t paint it - but it’s attributed to him. He’s got a team of girls that follow him around, his assistants. It was his painting but he didn’t put any paint on it, himself. He came up with the idea, said ‘this is what it’s going to look like, now crack on and do it for me.’

B: How much of these kinds of ideas overlap with the music you make?

L: There’s a huge overlap, on the conceptual side. It’s the same: it’s creation. You’re making something from nothing. It’s understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If I hadn’t done that degree I’d probably be out now sweating, looking for a career. Because I did that degree I understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I’ve got to stick with it really.

B: That’s not to be underestimated. It’s pretty rare that people truly know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

L: Obviously I’ve got to get a job soon, unless music starts paying me. I’ve gotta get something just to pay the rent. A part time somting’. But a career means devoting your life to it, taking work home with you. But I’ve already got work at home, that’s my music. That is my focus. That’s what I do.

B: A lot of people think that if your name is known in music you’re making a career out of it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

L: Yeah. This is what it is. You either like it or you don’t: it’s not making any money.

B: I guess this way there’ll be no people in dubstep ‘for the money’ like people jumped into jungle or 2step. Because making money out of dubstep… I don’t know anyone who’s ever done it.

L: I could sit down and try and write a pop tune, but that’s not where my head’s at. I like sound. I wouldn’t like to get into pop, though I’d like to be a badboy producer one day. Work with amazing artists but not bubble gum pop.

B: I’m guessing the album project is on hold …

L: Yeah man. When it’s ready it’s ready. It will either be or it wont. I think me doing an album now is running before I can walk. I’m too fussy about my sound and that’s why I can’t put an album together. It doesn’t work for me.

B: You do seem disappointed with levels of quality other people would kill to get to…

L: My sound ain’t there yet. It’s getting there. I want to be better than everyone. I want to have the best mixdown. The best, cleanest mixdown in the universe. Not even to boast, but when I hear it I’m like ‘ahh … that’s crystal.’

B: Do you think that will ever be achievable?

L: Fuckitt, I dunno. That’s how we drive ourselves. We strive for the unachievable. That’s human nature.

B: So how do you feel about Fruity Loops?

L: The affordability and availability of it is good. But I despise Fruity. Skream is the only exception to the rule. He does things that shouldn’t be possible with that program.

B: Skepta said that to me about Skream as well.

L: I’ve given up trying to get Skream onto Logic because he’s just writing bullets. He’s on fire, he’s fucking amazing. He took the piss with ‘Ancient Memories.’ He took liberties with that tune, it’s amazing. Skream is my favourite producer. Seriously right now I couldn’t tell you anyone who comes close. It’s the truth. It’s all about Skream and then it’s all about Coki. I don’t know what happened. Coki was writing bad beats and then something happened and he came with ‘Haunted.’ Since then it’s been next level. Coki’s in overdrive. He’s silly: I’m well into what Coki does.

B: You remixed Nasty Crew. What’s your thoughts on grime?

L: I think grime’s wicked. But it’s not really what I’m about. I’d like to work with a couple of MCs, but literally a couple. But I’d be writing a track for us, not Sidewinder. But yeah, grime I think it’s ruff, I like what they’re doing. I like the energy. But it’s not me.

B: It must be nice having the DMZ rave be so successful?

L: It’s fantastic. Fucking crazy - I can’t even explain the feeling. That night is like coming full circle, from listening to pirates, going to raves, wanting to DJ. Suddenly we’re producing, we’ve been signed, to we’ve go our own dance of our label. It’s real full circle. It’s always been on the cards though: we’ve always talked about putting on the baddest jungle dance on. But we’ve always been about not rushing into things. ‘Nah, that’s not right.’ Things have to be right. Don’t fit a round peg into a square hole with a hammer.


elemental said...

Big up Loefah, respect.

Siah Alan said...


paul autonomic said...

Jesus. That's about the weightiest interview I've read this year with one of the people I admire most in the scene. Big up to both of you.

"My sound ain’t there yet. It’s getting there." Mental. I'm looking forward to the future because he's already killing it in the present.

dubway said...


dan hancox said...

Big up Streatham, Balham, Tooting and beyond to Norwood! I don't know why I feel like a South Londoner more than a Londoner, cause I do appreciate it's pretty silly. It probably is about familiarity, I agree.

I think London does have a unified feel which I miss whenever I leave the city, but at the same time I don't think I'd ever want to live north or east or west london either.

Either way, roll on the next DMZ night.

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